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Brand Management

Building Brands On Customer Passions


Building Brands On Customer Passions

In a fantastic piece called Meaning Powers a New Era of Brand Strategy, Dr. Martina Olbertova reminds us that, “Brands aren’t just vehicles of branding products, services and experiences. Their primary business is meaning exchange. The primary goal of a brand should be to help people maximize their inner potential and become more of themselves.”

There’s no doubt many of Nike’s customers buy their products because the association with star athletes might push them harder to train. And in a heated socio-political climate, owning Nike products could signal support for broader social issues like the cause taken up by controversial figure Colin Kapernick. The first iPod users with their white earbuds signaled ‘exclusive’ and ‘leading edge’ before other manufacturers began to mimic the approach.

Make It Personal

One way to increase meaning is to make it personal. Clay Shirky’s written a great book (and TED Talk) about cognitive surplus. His point is that platforms, networks and technology is fueling a shift wherein customers can become collaborators. I touched on this point a few years ago using some examples of what Lego is doing to harness a new era in customer creatvity. Lars Silberbauer, Lego’s Senior Director of Social Media said, “[Lego] may own the copyright but we co-own the brand with adults and children.” And he’s right. Any modern definition of brand must incorporate some acknowledgement of co-ownership.

It’s currently approaching autumn which means here in the US, American football is kicking off. It’s not uncommon to see fans of all ages sporting their team’s jersey at school, at work, or just about town. Down in Florida, it was “college colors week” at an elementary school and kids were encouraged to wear their favorite college t-shirts or colors. Sports teams are some of the world’s most known and powerful brands. One student, wanted to represent the University of Tennessee but didn’t have an official shirt. So he drew the UT logo on a piece of paper and fastened it to an orange shirt, but at lunch he was teased by other members of the school.

The teacher, devastated, posted to social media and what she said went viral, attracting the attention of both the University and many alumni. Not only did they respond in Kohl’s-like fashion with a care package stuffed with branded merchandise, they went a step further and turned the child’s design into an official school shirt with a portion of the proceeds being donated to STOMP Out Bullying, a national non-profit organization that is dedicated to eradicating bullying of all forms.

The shirt was so popular that the volume of online orders crashed their website earlier this week.

Democratic Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg is also empowering his fans to use and customize his brand assets in the hopes of presenting a strong, unified message and visual experience across digital and live grassroots events. As Nicole Gallucci from Mashable shares, “The Design ToolKit, created by design firm Hyperakt and available through PeteforAmerica.com, serves as a sort of Buttigieg brand bible, if you will. The decision to create and release the guidelines was a bold, strategic, and honestly pretty smart move.”

The ToolKit is fairly comprehensive, maybe even overly-so, but it’s flexible enough to allow for liberties. If supporters think of any other graphics that they would find useful, the team encourages them to reach out and share their ideas.

Co-Create To Relate

I’d love to see more brands taking advantage of co-ownership with customers and fans. Whether by listening for interesting consumer expressions and lifting them up into an inspiring story as the University of Tennessee has, or providing easily accessible ways for fans to express their support as ‘Mayor Pete’ has done with his public toolkit, were going to see more brands looking laterally for some truly interesting and innovative ways to increase the meaning they can provide to their fans, advocates and customers.

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